As every elephant counts, the ElefantAsia veterinary team has been working around the clock to provide treatment to an elephant suffering from tetanus. Phu Thongkoon, a bull elephant from Paklay district was transferred to the Elephant Hospital in Sayaboury over two weeks ago. Unable to eat, nor drink on his own, the elephant was extremely weak needing injections of anti-toxins to fight the infection. Progress has been slow as the vet team has fed and rehydrated the animal by hand. Little by little there has been marked improvement in Phu Thongkoon’s condition, with the elephant now eating and drinking on his own without any prompting.
Phu Thongkoon’s illness is the first case of tetanus in Laos reported to ElefantAsia in over ten years of working in the country. Tetanus is extremely rare in elephants and most usually fatal. Specialised literature received from Asian elephant range States indicate a greater percentage of fatalities from the disease than of recovery.
Treatment of Phu Thongkoon has cost in excess of $2,000 and is still rising, however this sick elephant has received tremendous public support from both here in Laos and abroad. Generous donations have been sent to ElefantAsia to ensure Phu Thongkoon receives the best possible care for as long as is needed.
As Phu Thongkoon continues his battle against this life threatening disease, the Asian elephant population in Laos faces its own battle against the threat of extinction. Currently the elephant birth rate in Laos is on average 4-5 births per annum opposed to 15 deaths, a trend which indicates the population is not sustainable. The country has a breeding reservoir of as few as sixty female elephants (those being under the age of 35). An area of particular importance for elephant breeding is Thongmixay, the district remaining the only area in Laos with significant births. The district accounted for 50% of elephant births in 2011 and 72% during 2010. In addition to low rates of breeding, pressure on the captive population is intensified by the export and rental of live Lao elephants to foreign countries for use in zoos and circuses. Export of an endangered species such as the Asian elephant is regulated by both the Government of Lao and CITES. However there is currently a request filed with the Lao Government to export eight elephants (1 male and 7 females, the majority being from Thongmixay district) to foreign countries.
This potential export would undoubtedly jeopardise the captive population dramatically impacting on the number of future elephant births in Laos. The Asian elephant holds great cultural importance in Laos, as well as serving to contribute to the national economy with approximately 9,000 people across the country reliant on income generated by working elephants. Captive elephants are also a huge draw for international visitors in a growing tourism industry and will provide substantial revenue for Laos in the future. Unquestionably Laos needs to protect its national heritage, the country needs to safeguard its elephant populations with particular emphasis on its genetic reservoir. This reservoir is imperative to the survival of the species in Laos.
Non-Governmental Organisation, ElefantAsia works in collaboration with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries implementing the Lao Captive Elephant Care and Management Programme which administers free veterinary care to the working elephants of Laos. The project activities also facilitate the registration and micro-chipping of the captive elephant population which is sponsored by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). Supporters of the CEPF include organisations such as the French Development Agency; the World Bank; the Government of Japan as well as Global Environmental Facility.